Conservation long-range plan will help set goals

A long-range strategic plan will be developed in the coming year to help guide everything done by the Webster County Conservation Department.

Conservation Director Matt Cosgrove said the plan will be designed by RDG Planning and Design, of Des Moines, and create an overall, 20-year vision for the department.

The same firm helped design a long-range plan for John F. Kennedy Memorial Park in 2012.

“They looked at everything here (at Kennedy), and what we should continue to do in the future, what we should do away with, things should add,” Cosgrove said. “It will be larger in scope. … It will address all of our 22 areas, not just the one park.”

The plan will provide a road map to reach the board’s goals in recreation and land preservation.

“It gives us a direction. It lets us take a look at recreational needs in the county, to make sure we’re meeting those needs. It looks at everything from land trails, water trails, public hunting ground, pretty much all the areas we work with, and figuring out where we go from here,” he said.

The plan will help the board identify areas it may want to target for land preservation, perhaps because they are wetlands, or home to an endangered species, or have some other unusual feature.

The plan will also take into account work being done by the Iowa Department of Natural Resources and the city of Fort Dodge on land trails and water trails, he said.

Cosgrove said he doesn’t have an official proposal yet from the company. He hopes to have an agreement signed within 30 days. After gathering information and holding public meetings, the company should be ready with a report by next spring.

The plan will cost around $20,000 to develop, he said. This is slightly more than the $16,000 spent on Kennedy Park’s master plan.

“Depending on how we structure this, it might cost us a little bit more, but we might find other partners – like the DNR may pick up water trail portion, and we’d find other people to pay for the pieces that they want done as well,” he said.

Having a clear road map can help the Conservation Department do a better job of budgeting, Cosgrove said, and help with fundraising for projects.

“When people can see the plans, it’s easier to go out and raise funds,” he said.

A natural playscape currently under development at Kennedy Park, and some shelters in Veterans Park, both came from the Kennedy master plan, he said.

Projects underway right now by the department include completion of Phase II of the Gypsum City Off-Highway Vehicle Park, located near Webster County Road P59.

The current phase will be done by later this summer and add approximately 30 miles of trails to the existing 15, Cosgrove said.

In the future, a third section of trails will open east of the highway, bringing the park’s total size up to 800 acres, Cosgrove said.

“It will be the largest OHV park in the state,” he said.

Workers from Trails Unlimited, an enterprise program of the U.S. Forestry Department, are building the trails.

Other partners in building the park include the city of Fort Dodge and the Webster County Improvement Corporation, he said. The park first opened in 2005, and was made possible by a land donation from National Gypsum Co.

“This fits into our long-term plan to generate some revenue,” Cosgrove said. “If we can generate revenue through user fees, then we can reduce the amount of requested tax dollars.”